We headed out before sunrise with the hopes of spotting a big buck to stalk within bow range. Little did my hunting partner Joe, and I, know we were in for a mule deer extravaganza. We've made the prairie sojourn an annual pilgrimage and have done well.
At least one of us normally takes a buck and we are usually entertained and educated with numerous failed stalks. Success does have a lot to do with locating an animal in an ideal spot to take advantage of the terrain and wind to get in close.
We headed to a local reservoir where we've seen plenty of mule deer in the past. We glassed the shorelines and edges of willow patches, and once satisfied we'd seen everything we moved farther down to spot the next stretch of cover. We no sooner stopped when I spotted antlers sticking out of the grass on the far bank. I was just starting to complain I couldn't see details when the buck stood and started to feed. It only took seconds to know I'd be more than happy to put my tag on the buck if I could.
I saw the buck had deep forks and sticker points off both antlers as we watched him and a buddy feed their way up the edge of the reservoir. From a high hill we watched the pair move into a carragana hedge on an old farmstead. We were off to start our stalk and had to travel about six miles to get around the water and start downwind of the deer.
As we worked down the edge of the reservoir, keeping out of sight along the shoreline, the wind hid any noise we made. After covering 900 yards, we slowed and began to watch every step, as we slipped to within 50 yards of where the buck bedded and searched for antlers with good optics. Joe found them first, moving back and forth at the base of a shrub.
Knowing exactly where it was bedded allowed me to detour around and cut the distance to just 35 yards. I set up in a comfortable position, nocked an arrow and attached my release to my D-loop. It was time to sit quietly and simply wait for the buck to stand.
If the buck stood up, I would have a 12-inch window to thread an arrow through carragana limbs at exactly 36 yards. We had been sitting and watching for just over 30 minutes when the buck lifted his head and stood up without warning. I was ready and immediately drew my bow, placing my 30-yard pin just above where I wanted my arrow to go.
The buck was quartering away from me and when I squeezed the trigger on my release I watched my arrow fly straight into the deer, making a distinct sound as it passed through him.
The deer was off and running in a second and his funky-antlered friend followed closely behind. A minute later the smaller buck appeared farther down the shore of the reservoir, but the buck I arrowed didn't. Being in the open prairie allowed us to watch were the buck ran and knowing the terrain he had to be in the cover along the shoreline.
I picked each step carefully as I looked for the deer. I started to get concerned when I couldn't find blood, but kept sneaking forward. When I got down along the shoreline I saw antlers sticking up out of the water about 50 yards ahead. My buck was floating where he'd fallen off the steep bank and into an icy bath.
The buck was the biggest I'd ever taken with archery gear. I was thrilled to be putting my tag on him. I know from experience that not all attempts are successful, but this buck had bedded in an ideal spot to close the distance, stay out of sight and make the perfect shot.
After my early success, we went back to finding Joe a buck. It didn't take long to find a bachelor group and the stalk was on. Joe had been picking his way through the terrain when a herd of does and fawns came from the north and into the same bowl as the bucks. I knew my hunting partner was likely within 100 yards of the bucks, when a big doe broke away from the herd and trotted directly at him, made eye contact, and sent all the deer on the run.
The groups quickly split and the four bucks were once again on their own. I had a chance to look the deer over with the spotting scope. There was a tall, impressive buck sporting three points on each antler. Another had four points on each antler, but was short on one point forming a crab claw.
The next morning, we found the three bucks three miles east of where we last saw them. We sat and watched them for close to two hours as they wandered through a dry slough bed and up a shrubby draw before bedding. We knew there was no way to drive closer so Joe headed out from our position for the long stalk to the draw where the deer disappeared.
I backed out, drove to the main road and back to the top of the draw, where I could watch the action. I got to see the events unfold as Joe snuck into position and sat patiently to wait for the deer to stand. He didn't have to wait long, and when two of the deer ran out across the prairie I knew the reason the third one wasn't with them.
Joe had snuck to within 30 yards of the bedded deer and as luck would have it the big three presented the first shot opportunity. Joe drew his bow and sent an arrow right through the big-bodied buck, which turned and headed down the draw, crashing into the cover about 100 yards away.